After dominating the competition in the Asian Games in Jakarta last year, Hidilyn Diaz is expected by many Filipinos to win the gold medal in the weightlifting competition of the upcoming 30th Southeast Asian Games.
The Olympic silver medalist is in the thick of her preparations for the biennial meet, which will be hosted in the Philippines for the first time in 14 years. She is training six times a week and does two-a-days in three of those six times with the help of her strength and conditioning coach Julius Naranjo.
Diaz is also in the midst of her journey back to the Olympics, joining one competition after another in the hope of qualifying for Tokyo and getting the rare opportunity to win the country's first Olympic gold. But that doesn't mean she is taking the SEA Games lightly.
"I will do my best. My team is pressuring me not to relax. Even if my chances of winning [the gold medal] are huge, I can't be complacent," Diaz told ESPN5.com.
Accepting the fact that she's not the same athlete as before, Diaz has had to make some adjustments in her training to boost her chances of achieving that elusive SEA Games gold. After being resistant at first, Diaz finally succumbed to the training regimen Naranjo laid out for her, realizing that going scientific with her preparations has prevented injuries and has made her stronger.
"She is an older athlete, so there's a lot of science that's put into her training program. We really focus hard on building her program, to ensure she gets the proper amount of recovery and nutrition, and the sets and reps to help her get stronger," said Naranjo.
"Our training approach is more scientific this time," added Diaz. "I do warmups now, as instructed by Coach Julius, which I didn't do before, as well as stretching. He puts me through a lot of warm-up exercises. I used to complain before, but now I have to do a lot of warm-ups and stretching so when I hit the barbells, my body is ready. I have to think long term, and not just train and go to the barbells right away."
Diaz also said she now has to monitor what she eats and needs to follow a strict food diet prepared by the team's nutritionist to aid in her recovery after every training.
"Following the diet is the difficult part. When I'm exhausted from training, I want to eat, but I have to control my food intake," she admitted.
The team even decided to hold her training in Taiwan for a few months to keep Diaz far from the distractions so she can buckle down and hone her craft.
The ultimate goal is to eventually qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Naranjo said the important thing for Diaz is to have continuous progress "because the goal is to qualify and get in the top three [of the world rankings]."
"I think the SEA Games will be a good buildup, [and] as a coach I would want her to get a gold medal, but I think the goal is to progress leading up to the Olympics. The end game is always going to be the Olympics," he said.
Diaz, though, is aiming for nothing less than gold in the SEA Games to end the year on a strong note.
"It's my personal goal to win the gold medal in the SEA Games, because I haven't won a gold medal [in the SEA Games]. At the same time, it's one step towards Tokyo 2020, because the SEA Games is a silver level qualifier. I'm nervous, but I will do my best because we are hosting the SEA Games."